Biennial Budgeting Will Reduce Costs to State
2/4/2011

By Sen. Mike Brubaker and Rep. Bryan Cutler 

Pennsylvania is facing a multi-billion dollar budget deficit this year, as it has in the past several budget cycles.  Exacerbating the financial fiasco is our lack of reserve funds and expiration of federal stimulus dollars. 

It is clear there is room for improvement, and we believe it is time to take a bold approach to correcting not only our current budget woes, but also improving our system and methods of budgeting to avoid similar problems in the future.   

We believe our budget process could be vastly improved by moving to a biennial, rather than an annual, approach to budgeting.  This would cut down on the countless hours spent each year on budget preparation and would encourage a more restrained approach to revenue forecasting, both of which would save the state millions of dollars.  We have introduced identical biennial budget proposals in Senate Bill 267 and House Bill 241. 

Annual budgeting is the largest and most involved undertaking completed by the Pennsylvania Legislature each year.  Budgets are based on allocations from the previous year, testimony from the heads of state departments, and revenue forecasts compiled by the Office of the Budget, under the auspices of the executive branch.  Gov. Tom Corbett, in outlining his government reform priorities, has placed biennial budgeting at the top of his reform list.   

Innumerable hours go into crafting the budget between the Legislature and executive branch.  Biennial budgets, however, have been proven to cut down on the time spent preparing budgets, thus reducing the costs of budgeting.  By completing a two-year budget, we could stop the cycle of constantly budgeting and reduce the costs of preparing the plan. 

Another benefit of budgeting every other year would be greater caution in revenue forecasting.  While budgets could always be reopened and adjusted, it is our hope that the entities involved in forecasting would be more realistic and restrictive when crunching the numbers.  What we saw over the past few budget cycles was overly optimistic forecasting that led to overspending.  Additionally, this type of budgeting would assist the state in better long-range planning.   

Not only would this type of budgeting be advantageous for the state, but our school districts also would benefit because their budgets are often based upon presumptions about state allocations which are not revealed until after school budgets are completed.  Education is one of the largest and most important sectors of the state budget, and our schools deserve to know how much funding they will receive from the state earlier in the year.  Moving to a biennial budget process would increase budgeting efficiency for our public schools, providing them with stability as they budget. 

The biennial budget process also would make the Legislature more efficient.  Presently, the General Assembly spends about half the year working on the budget.  If we could spend this time working on a two-year budget instead, we could use the rest of the session to work on the state’s other priorities.  Issues like transportation funding, unemployment compensation reform and property tax reform have been left unresolved.  Though we cannot totally blame the budget process for the lack of action on these issues, it certainly has contributed to the lethargic response. 

Finally, we believe the less time lawmakers spend figuring out how to spend taxpayer dollars, the better for everyone.  As we have seen in the past, if given enough time, the government will come up with limitless creative programs that amount to nothing more than higher taxes on our citizens.  We want the government to get out of our wallets. 

Currently 20 states budget biennially, including Texas, Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina.  You certainly cannot argue that Pennsylvania is too big for this type of budgeting considering three of the 10 most populous states are doing it, and the annual operating budget of a state like Texas is far greater than our own. 

The process of moving to a biennial budget will not be easy.  It will require amending the Pennsylvania Constitution, which entails passing both chambers of the General Assembly; advertising across the Commonwealth; coming back to the Legislature for a second approval in the next session; and going back to the voters for final consent.  While this will be a very involved process, we believe it is worth attempting to repair our mangled annual system of budgeting. 

Residents who have questions about this legislation, the process or any other state matter, may contact Sen. Mike Brubaker at either (717) 787-4420 or online at SenatorBrubaker.com.  Rep. Bryan Cutler can be reached at either (717) 786-4551 or RepCutler.com

State Senator Mike Brubaker
36th District, Pennsylvania Senate
State Representative Bryan Cutler
100th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Contact: Kristin Crawford / kcrawford@pasen.gov / 717.787.4420
SenatorBrubaker.com
Nicole Wamsley / nwamsley@pahousegop.com / 717.783.8063
RepCutler.com

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